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Gorilla Tourism Slowly Recovers

  • Friday, October 1, 1999

Although tourism in Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable and Mgahinga national parks has been hurt by the March 1 rebel attack that killed eight tourists and staff members in Bwindi, visitors are gradually returning to see the mountain gorillas.

Bwindi's facilities have been rebuilt and equipment replaced, and flowers are blooming in the community campground, reports Annette Lanjouw, AWF regional coordinator for the International Gorilla Conservation Program (IGCP). The gorillas have been monitored without interruption; none was harmed in the attack.

Even so, occupancy rates in the early summer were running only about 20 percent, sharply reducing tourist revenues that the Uganda Wildlife Authority relies on for gorilla conservation. The IGCP, jointly run by AWF, the World Wide Fund for Nature and Fauna and Flora International, has increased its support to help the park authority meet expenses until tourism rebounds.

In Rwanda, Volcano National Park reopened July 15 to gorilla-viewing tourists after military maneuvers and refugee movements forced the park to close two years ago. Although, the Rwandan army has worked closely with the park staff to patrol the area and prevent rebels from establishing bases there, the recovery of tourism is likely to be slow after the long period of hostilities in Rwanda, Lanjouw says. The IGCP has continued working in the park to train guards and guides in gorilla protection.

Civil war has also halted tourism in Congo's Virunga National Park, although the IGCP is helping the staff protect the mountain gorillas.

Despite the setbacks, IGCP-trained rangers in all three countries are making headway in identifying--and making ID cards for--every single mountain gorilla. The daily tracking of the animals, Lanjouw reports, has yielded a great deal of information on their ranging habits.

Because of continuing instability in the region, visitors hoping to see the gorillas are advised to consult their embassies before making travel plans.

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